“Local Hunger Fighters” is a series that spotlights our awesome volunteers, community partners and donors who help raise awareness of hunger in our community and motivate people to get involved.
This month, our Director of Services Anna Dyer nominated Dr. Michelle Hauser, a primary care physician, prevention researcher, medical educator and classically-trained chef who is a food security champion within the San Mateo Medical Center’s system of health clinics.
“Dr. Michelle Hauser is very passionate and committed to fight hunger with the wider food bank network. She clearly sees the links between food security and her patients’ health and has committed significant time to helping us establish screening and referrals processes by the medical providers at the Fair Oaks Health Center in Redwood City. Dr. Hauser is enthusiastic about the partnership and willing to roll up her sleeves to think through the nitty-gritty details of improving our system of health care and access to food programs,” said Anna Dyer.
Dr. Michelle Hauser
Chef Michelle Hauser MD
How did you get involved with Second Harvest and how are you helping Second Harvest and our community?
I began working with Second Harvest almost 2 years ago in collaboration with Samaritan House and the Food Pharmacy there. Dr. Jason Wong, Medical Director at Samaritan House, worked with me to allow about 60 patients from Fair Oaks Health Center (an outpatient community clinic that is part of the San Mateo County Health System and where I practice medicine) and their families to go to the Food Pharmacy located in Samaritan House in Redwood City. There, the patients and families got free access to healthy food, nutrition education and cooking demonstrations for a year with the option to continue thereafter. The food and education were provided by Second Harvest. However, there was far more demand at Fair Oaks Health Center than Samaritan House could support.
At that point, Anna Dyer and others from Second Harvest met with me and others at Fair Oaks Health Center to discuss other ways to reach Fair Oaks Health Center patients. After that discussion, I wrote a grant that was funded by Stanford and the National Institute of Health to test methods of screening for food insecurity and referring patients to free, healthy food resources in the community.
Additionally, Second Harvest has worked with Dr. Rakhi Singh, the Medical Director at Fair Oaks Health Center, and me on a similar project to devise better ways to screen patients and refer them to food resources. Specifically, Second Harvest was interested in developing the Wellness Pantry and we thought that Fair Oaks Health Center patients and families could be the first group to pilot the program. Thus, the portion of the grant project focused on referral came to rely heavily on referrals to the Wellness Pantry.
To qualify for referral to the Wellness Pantry, patients need to be food insecure and have at least one of the following medical conditions: prediabetes, diabetes, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Those who are food insecure but don’t have these conditions, or who need more food than the Wellness Pantry provides, are referred to other Second Harvest resources.
Why do you support Second Harvest and what inspires you to get involved in fighting hunger?
Second Harvest is an awesome organization! I personally grew up poor and my family received food from food banks. At the time, the food offered was highly processed and unhealthy. I am so glad to see that Second Harvest provides its clients with fresh and nutritious food.
Food is something that has always been very important to me. Before becoming a doctor, I went to culinary school to become a chef. I taught and managed a cooking school for 5 years and helped start a culinary program at a community college in Northern California. I still love to cook today, and believe access to healthy, delicious food is key to maintaining health and preventing disease. Because of this, I teach medical students at Stanford University School of Medicine how to cook simple, inexpensive food from a variety of cultures and how to counsel patients to make healthy dietary changes.
Chef Michelle Hauser MD
What is your best memory since this project started?
Anna (Second Harvest Director of Services) shared with me stories of patients that came to the Wellness Pantry and spoke with staff and volunteers about the severity of their food insecurity and its impact on their lives and health. Some said they used to worry everyday about not having enough food to feed themselves and their families. Thanks to the Wellness Pantry, they now have enough food and appreciate improved access to healthy food. Additionally, patients are interested in learning to cook these healthy foods. There was one gentleman who spent more than an hour talking with one of Second Harvest’s dietitians about how to cook foods provided to him. He was so engaged, he asked for the dietitian’s phone number and later called her to get more cooking tips!
On a more personal level, I really appreciate being able to work with an incredible team of people who are passionate about improving people’s access to healthy food as well as being able to offer patients treatment for food-related conditions in a way we weren’t able to previously. I want to say, “thank you,” to Second Harvest and all of the donors and volunteers for your efforts to improve the much needed access to healthy food for our patients and for all of the great work you do in the community. In the future, I hope this initiative takes off and that there are more sites and more doctors interested and able to screen for food insecurity and refer their patients to free, healthy food resources.
Thank you so much Dr. Michelle Hauser for being a Local Hunger Fighter and inspiring us all!